It started out as a simple request: a nearby pastor suggested that we find a few pastors who would be interested in gathering for a book study on what it means to be “an equipping pastor,” that is, what it means to be a pastor who sees her or his job to be that of equipping members for ministry in daily life. It’s been a buzzword in the church for a good many years, so I was immediately interested and started looking for a book that would serve as the centerpiece for a study group.

I was amazed that—as popular as the topic is—I couldn’t find a definitive book on the subject. I found books aimed at helping laity understand their ministry (William Diehl’s Thank God It’s Monday comes to mind). I found books that were approaching 30 years old. I found newer books that focus on particular pieces of the puzzle (Chris Scharen’s excellent Faith As a Way of Life: A Vision for Pastoral Leadership is a good example). But I did not find a comprehensive book that is designed to help pastors understand and live out their role in this way.

What does it mean to be an equipping pastor? How is that different from what most pastors were trained to be and do? What implications does this hold for program, staff, structure, and day-to-day ministry?

How does one shift from being a ‘pastoral’ or ‘program’ pastor to being an equipping pastor? How does a leader foster a community that equips people for ministry—not in the church, but in the world?

When I left the parish to work at the Center for Renewal at Grand View University, I experienced several ‘revelations.’ One of them was the realization that for 25 years I had been totally consumed by life in the church. I realized that I had little clue as to what it meant to live “in the world.” So I started watching my wife, who happens to work in an architectural firm. What does it mean, I wondered, to work in a place where the focus and the conversation has nothing to do with faith? I’m still figuring that out.

So how is it that I am supposed to be an equipping pastor? How am I—who “lives the church”—supposed to help people live out their faith in the “real world”?

Foundational characteristics

In my work I promote thirteen characteristics of a renewing congregation. One of them is:

Pastors will be as adept at equipping members for ministry as they are at providing ministry for others.

Pastors often buy in to the notion that we are the ones who “do ministry.” After all, that’s what we’re educated and paid to do. Members are all too willing to remind us that our job is either to minister to them or to minister on their behalf. So what would it mean to change—and how would we go about changing—that dynamic so that pastors are as good at equipping members for ministry in the world as they are at providing ministry for others?

A related characteristic is:

Ministry in the church will be valued principally as a means for empowering ministry in the daily lives of our members.

Pastors and members both buy into the notion that it’s what happens in the church that is important. If we talk about the ‘ministry of the laity,’ most often we speak about recruiting Sunday school teachers, altar guild members, or volunteers for the food pantry. If you need proof, audit a Time and Talent sheet. How many options involve activities in or through the church? Don’t get me wrong; ministry in the church is important—but to what end? Most often, it’s to ensure institutional vitality. So what would it mean to change—and how would we go about changing—that dynamic so that ministry in the church is seen principally as a means for empowering the ministry of our members in their daily lives?

Conversations in process

Remember that “simple request” in the first paragraph? It led me to send a letter to pastors in our area, hoping to find 6 to 12 that would be interested in being part of a one-time conversation about this topic. To my utter amazement and delight, over 60 pastors responded! I wound up traveling to 11 different sites to engage pastors in conversation. I wrote a report that summarized what I heard. From there, I wasn’t sure where this topic would lead.

There’s time yet to engage in conversation online. How do you feel about your ministry in daily life? How has your congregation equipped you for that role? If you are a pastor, how well are you prepared to equip your members for ministry? What have you done that worked well, or what questions do you have?

Jump in. I’d love to hear from you!

[First published in November 2011 on a previous blog. It’s interesting that the last sentence in the next-to-last paragraph indicated that this “simple request” might lead somewhere. In time it led to the publication of The Scattering!]